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Yale, Northeastern game has huge Pairwise implications

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Matt Dewkett

If Yale wins on Tuesday night it will finish the regular season with three wins and zero losses against Hockey East competition. The significance of that is important, especially considering the Bulldogs current position in the all-important Pairwise Rankings.

Yale moved up to No. 13 in the Pairwise following Saturday's 3-1 upset victory over Vermont, and won't play a team outside of ECAC Hockey the rest of the season. For those unfamiliar with how the Pairwise works, a significant portion of the formula revolves around comparisons with like teams. By going 3-0 against Hockey East teams, Yale could potentially flip a great number of those comparisons in its favor when the season ends in March.

The 2013 NCAA Champions have flown largely under the radar this season, but have an 8-3-2 record entering Tuesday's game against Northeastern at Matthews Arena. Keith Allain's team remains the only blemish on Harvard's otherwise undefeated record. The Bulldogs downed the Crimson on the road, 2-1, back on Nov. 15. A win at Colgate also stands out as another impressive victory on Yale's resume.

The Bulldogs will likely gain the services of John Hayden, who will be back from the World Junior Championship after serving as an alternate captain for the United States. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect missed three games while with the red, white and blue, but has three goals and seven assists in 10 games played for the Eli this season.

Freshman Ryan Hitchcock has started to heat up after a sluggish start to his rookie campaign. The US National Team Development Program alum has at least a point in four of his last five games, including a goal and two assists against UVM Saturday.

Senior Trent Ruffolo missed the first six games of the season with an injury, but has three goals and two assists in seven games since returning to the lineup.

Defensively, Yale is led by junior and Boston Bruins prospect Rob O'Gara, who will be making a homecoming of sorts Tuesday, having played prep hockey at Milton Academy. The six-foot-four Nesconset, NY native is +6, tied for the best/plus minus on the team.

Tuesday's likely starter in goal for the Bulldogs is sophomore Alex Lyon, who has only missed one start on the season. The Baudette, Minn. native has an impressive 1.75 goals against average and .934 save percentage on the season. He came to Yale in the same recruiting class as Patrick Spano, but wrestled the full-time starting job away after the two split the first few games during their freshman season.

On Northeaster's end, the Huskies are seemingly out of any Pairwise talk with their 0-8-1 start, but Jim Madigan's team has come on with a vengeance the past nine games. The Huskies are 6-2-1 since that winless start, including wins over Minnesota, Providence and Merrimack.

Despite not having national ramifications for the Huskies, they will still look to continue building positive energy before a big home-and-home series against crosstown rival Boston College this weekend.

"We're just looking at the next game. We have a quick turnaround for a very good Yale team on Tuesday, but we do want to build confidence and momentum in nonconference to get back into the league," Madigan said after Saturday's game against St. Lawrence.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.